James Wright Foley
(18 October 1973 - 19 August 2014)


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General Details

Name: Mr James Wright Foley
Memorial Name: jamesfoley
Gender: Male
Lived: 18 October 1973 - 19 August 2014

Memorial Story

James Wright "Jim" Foley (October 18, 1973 – c. August 19, 2014) was an American journalist and video reporter. While working as a freelance war correspondent during the Syrian Civil War, he was abducted on November 22, 2012, in northwestern Syria. He was beheaded in August 2014, becoming the first American citizen killed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS, Islamic State, IS) as a response to American airstrikes in Iraq.

Before he became a journalist, Foley was an instructor for Teach For America. In 2009, he became an embedded journalist with USAID-funded development projects in Iraq, and in 2011 he wrote for military newspaper Stars and Stripes in Afghanistan, and GlobalPost in Libya. There, he was captured by Gaddafi loyalist forces and held for 44 days. The next year, James Foley was captured in Syria while he was working for Agence France-Presse and GlobalPost.

Early life and education

Foley was a native of Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, He attended Kingswood Regional High School in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. He was the oldest of five children born to John and Diane Foley of Rochester, New Hampshire. He was a Catholic. Foley graduated from Marquette University, a private, Jesuit Catholic institution, in 1996, from the MFA Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2003, and from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 2008.


Foley began his career as a teacher in Arizona, Massachusetts, and Chicago for Teach For America (TFA). In the mid-2000s he changed careers to journalism. In 2009, Foley worked for USAID-funded development projects in Baghdad. He helped organize conferences and training seminars for a program designed to rebuild Iraq’s civil service, crippled by decades of isolation and autocratic administration. In 2010 he left Iraq and applied for military embed-journalist accommodation status in Afghanistan to become a freelance journalist. He was an embedded journalist with US troops in Iraq, where his brother was serving as an officer in the United States Air Force. In January 2011, Foley joined Stars and Stripes as a reporter on assignment in Afghanistan. Two months later he was removed from his post after being detained by US military police at Kandahar Air Field on suspicion of possessing and using marijuana. On 3 March 2011, Foley admitted that he had marijuana in his possession and resigned his position.

In 2011, while working for the Boston-based GlobalPost, Foley went to Libya to cover the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, embedding himself with rebel fighters.

2011 detainment in Libya

According to media reports, on the morning of 5 April 2011, Foley, fellow American Clare Morgana Gillis, a freelance reporter (Atlantic Monthly, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today), as well as Spanish photographer Manu Brabo(es), were detained near Brega, Libya, by forces loyal to Gaddafi; fellow photojournalist Anton Hammerl was killed in the attack in which Foley, Gillis, and Brabo were captured. When the shooting started, Foley and Gillis both heard Hammerl yell out, "Help!" Hammerl was killed and the other three journalists were beaten by the pro-Gaddafi forces and then taken as their prisoners. Foley stated: "Once I saw Anton lying there dead, it was like everything had changed. The whole world has changed. I don't even know that I felt some of the blows." Gillis said "We all glanced down at him as we were being taken by, and I saw him just lying in a pool of blood. And then we were put into the truck and our heads were pushed down. We weren't able to see anything that happened after that to him."

Foley was released from jail 44 days later. On 18 May, Foley, Gillis and Brabo, as well as Nigel Chandler (an English journalist also being held), were brought to the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli after release. Foley returned to Milwaukee to thank the community for praying for his safe return. In an interview, he said, "You go through different emotions when you're in captivity... These weird extreme ideas of where you are based on this capture. You don't want to be defined as that guy who got captured in 2011. I believe front line journalism is important [without it] we can't tell the world how bad it might be." Foley also wrote an article for Marquette Magazine about how rosary prayers helped get him through his captivity. His experience of being captured did not deter him; he quickly returned to Libya, and was at the scene of Muammar Gaddafi’s capture with GlobalPost correspondent Tracey Shelton on October 20, 2011.

Foley continued working as a freelancer for GlobalPost and other media outlets like Agence France-Presse during the Syrian Civil War.

Kidnapping in Syria, hostage negotiations, and rescue attempt

Foley was kidnapped by an organized gang after departing from an internet café in Binesh along with his translator and British journalist John Cantlie, in northwestern Syria on their way to the Turkish border on November 22, The translator was later released. They were reportedly working on a film depicting Cantlie's abduction and dramatic rescue by four members of the Free Syrian Army in July 2012.

Sources close to the family said that they believed he was kidnapped by Shabiha militia, a group loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. He was later reportedly held in a Syrian Air Force Intelligence complex in Damascus.

During negotiations from November to December 2013, Foley's captors demanded 100 million euros in ransom (approximately 132 million US dollars) from Foley's family, GlobalPost (his employer), and the US in exchange for his release. The chief executive officer of GlobalPost, Philip Balboni, stated that the company spent millions on efforts to bring Foley home, including hiring an international security firm, Kroll Inc.. In September 2013 the firm was able to locate Foley and had been able to follow his locations. He had moved many times during his captivity. Kroll's research led to GlobalPost reporting that Foley was being held in a Damascus prison run by Syrian Air Force Intelligence, along with at least one other Western journalist, possibly Austin Tice.

In June 2014, Danish photojournalist and fellow hostage Daniel Rye Ottosen was released by ISIS, and called the family to recite a memorized message that came to be known as Foley's final letter. In it, Foley addressed members of his family and described his captivity in a cell with seventeen other hostages, who passed the time with improvised strategy games and lectures. The family released the letter on their Facebook page shortly after Foley's death. Further information: 2014 American rescue mission in Syria

In July 2014, US President Barack Obama authorized a “substantial and complex” rescue operation after the US intelligence community said a “broad collection of intelligence” led to believe that the hostages were being held at a specific location in Syria. However, the mission failed because the hostages had been moved. The operation involved special operations forces from multiple branches of the US military, including the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, helicopters, fixed wing aircraft and drones. When Delta Force commandos landed in the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, they were met with gunfire and it became apparent that the hostages had been moved. IS suffered casualties and American forces suffered a single minor injury. The operation was only de-classified after Foley's death. It represented the first confirmation of US troops operating on the ground within Syria during the Syrian Civil War.

On August 12, 2014, Foley's parents received an email from his captors taking issue with the US government, saying it had refused to pay ransoms, unlike other governments, refused to negotiate prisoner exchanges, and "had no motivation to deal with the Muslims except through force". The email's authors said they had left the US alone since its "disgraceful defeat in Iraq," but would "avenge" the US bombings, initially with the death of Foley. John Foley, the father of James, said he didn't realize how brutal his captors were. Even after receiving the email, he held out hope his son's release could still be negotiated. The family had reportedly been preparing to break US law to pay a ransom (undisclosed amount) for his release. For being an American, Foley was subjected to many mock executions and regular torture, and beatings during his captivity.

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  Online Memorial Created by : Brenda  on 16 November 2014  Back to Top